Best known as "Cousin Geri" from "The Facts of Life," I had the distinct pleasure and honor to personally sit down with the one and only Geri Jewell! Warm, personable, and extremely funny, Geri really opened up to me about her life, career, and new book "I'm Walking As Straight As I Can" where Geri chronicles growing up with cerebral palsy, her rise to stardom as a comedian and being the first person with a physical disability to be cast in a prime time television series, to her downward spiral into drug addiction, and finally rising back up to the top and coming out.
For over 30 years, Geri Jewell has been entertaining audiences. Making audiences laugh from comedy clubs to television and film. In addition to "The Facts of Life," Geri has been featured on such hit films and television shows as "Two of A Kind," "The Great Space Coaster," "21 Jump Street," "Young & The Restless," "Sesame Street," "Strong Medicine," and HBO's "Deadwood."
When Geri is not making audiences laugh from the stage, she's making them laugh and inspiring them through her vast lecturing tours and diversity training at many Fortune 500 companies around the United States. She is the recipient of many awards, including the 1992 Founders Award, the 2005 Independent Living Legacy Award, and the 2006 Victory Award.
Geri has been a constant source of laughter and inspiration to millions of people for over 30 years and continues to thrive in this ever changing medium. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy my interview with Geri Jewell and be sure to pick up her book "I'm Walking As Straight As I Can" and visit http://www.gerijewell.com for even more insight into the strength and beauty that is Geri Jewell!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I think I was always funny as a kid with a good sense of humor. As far as a who inspired me, I would have to say Carol Burnett because she had such a wonderful ability to get people to laugh with her instead of at her, so I looked up to her. When I started doing stand-up comedy my mentor was Alex Valdez who was blind. He was doing blind jokes at the Comedy Store and he was the one who got me into it. He said to me "If I can do blind jokes, why don't you get up there and do cerebral palsy jokes." I said, "Okay."
2. Who's the one person you haven't worked with that you would like to? Without a shadow of doubt, I would love to work with Carol Burnett. Me: That would be great. Maybe one day you can guest star on "Glee" with her. Geri: Wouldn't that would be cool. It would be so much fun.
3. Was there ever a time you thought about quitting? If so, what career would you have chosen? One time? Haha...let me see, what year are you talking about? Hahaha...I don't think I ever thought about quitting completely because here I am still in the game, so there is a part of me that refuses to leave. I don't know what else I'm qualified to do other than being a writer, an actress, a performer, and a diversity trainer. You see, I wear many hats so I'm not just an entertainer. I go into Fortune 500 companies and Government agencies all over the United States and teach them about diversity training. I do a lot of different things. I'm not just an entertainer, but entertaining is definitely an aspect of all of them.
4. What's the best advice you've ever received? I've received a lot of good advice. My dad once said to me, "Forget the sideshow and pay attention to the main event." That was very good advice and my dad was not a man of many words, so I remember that one especially. Flip Wilson told me "Always write at least one new joke a day so that I would never be out of material."
5. What made now the right time to release your book, "I'm Walking As Straight As I Can"? It could have been later, it could have been now. I don't believe that there are any accidents in life. I believe everything happens for a reason and when it's your time it will happen. This book was meant to be now whether I chose it or not. I believe it was cathartic for me, it was healing. I got tired of the internet postings like "Geri got fired from "The Facts of Life" because she didn't get along with the other girls." Oh give me a break! I got tired of being misquoted and sometimes being made fun of in a malicious way. I decided, you know what, once and for all I'm going to tell my story as it is. There won't be room for misquotes because it's in a book. I did it for my own integrity and healing. Another part of my motive for releasing this book was to show other people who have struggled and have sometimes felt like giving up that you can't ever give up no matter how dark of a place you are in, you have to find someway to put one foot in front of the other. I thought the only way to do that was to tell my truth and to share that feeling with other people of how I survived. Me: I think that's a great reason to release it. I think a lot of people are going to benefit from it. Geri: I hope so. I've read some of the reviews online from Amazon.com and Barnes and Nobles and people are saying how they can relate to my book and it's given them hope. So I guess it's doing what I wanted it to do. I put my heart and soul into it, so it's very nice to see that people are embracing it.
6. What has living with cerebral palsy and being gay taught you about yourself? It's taught me about the diversity of all of us and how unique each and every human being is. There are no two people alike. I celebrate my difference and respect other people's differences.
7. Why do you think after all these years you are one of the most memorable characters from "The Facts of Life"? I didn't know I was. No way. More memorable than George Clooney? Come on. Me: I know when I told people your book was coming out and I was trying to set up an interview with "Cousin Geri" from "The Facts of Life" everybody knew exactly who I was talking about. Geri: Well, it is kind of amazing. I think because I was the first person ever with a physical disability to be cast in a prime time series, I think that put me in a pioneer status. Without even realizing it at the time, my impact was great. There is a lot of responsibility with that also and I think by doing what I did, I opened the door for a lot of people. There are a lot of comedians with disabilities now. In my time, it was just me and Alex Valdez (who I mentioned earlier). Alex started before me. I wrote about him in my book. There was a short period of time where he resented my fame because he started about a year before I did and I got the fame and he didn't. He was also my inspiration and I finally was able to give credit where credit was due. I really believe in that. I do not like people who do not give credit where credit is due. I think it's very important in life to do that. This was my opportunity to thank Alex. I'm very spiritually based. I'm not religious, but I'm very, very spiritual, so I don't take anything for granted, at least I try not to. Alex and I were actually born on the same day, but he's three years older than me. I believe Alex being in my path is no accident and that for some reason we were meant to come together because without Alex, I don't know I would have done with my life what I have. Me: Wow, that's pretty amazing. Geri: Yeah it is when you stop and think about it that one human being can change the course of someone else's life. I mean wow. That happens all the time and so many people take it for granted and don't realize that it just happened. Me: Right, that we were going in one direction and we meet that person and now our life is going in a different direction. Geri: Right.
8. Favorite skin care product? There is this one I use more than others called 24-7, but I have to admit, I have a bunch of skin products at home, but I couldn't tell you what brand they are. I use them, but it's not that important to me, though it should be. I figure, I'm 64 and I don't look it, so whatever I'm using works.
9. Favorite website? I know this is going to bore you tears, but I love playing Scrabble on Facebook. My parents started me on Junior Scrabble when I was real little and that was a game I played from the time I could spell until now, so it's a part of me. Me: Wow, you would probably wipe the floor with my face in it. Geri: No, not necessarily you, other people maybe, but not you.
10. Superman or Wonder Woman? What's my favorite underwear?? Hahaha....what was the question? Me: Just Superman or Wonder Woman? Geri: Oh, what underwear do they wear? Hahaha...you know, truthfully I would say Superman because I am so involved with people who are involved in the Christopher Reeve Foundation and I have a Superman tag Christopher Reeve created.
11. Favorite way to spend your day off? I would have to say going out to eat with friends.
12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? That's when I'm asleep, not while I'm awake...how the hell would I know who I dream about...hahaha. Does it have to be a person? Me: No, it can be an event, anything you want. Geri: You know I'm really tired because the only thing I can think of are my cats. I lost all four of my kitties. The last one about 5 months ago. So, I know that when I'm dreaming about my kitties, they are visiting me from the other side, from the rainbow bridge. Me: Haha...I like that. Geri: No, there really is a rainbow bridge. It's where our pets go after they die. Me: Oh, okay. Geri: You should Google it. Me: I will. I guess that's where my hamster went to.